USC University of Southern California

Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC

Honduras: A Trip to Remember


 The Dental Brigades group and members of the community.

This past December, 14 USC dental students, 1 family member, thousands of dollars worth of donated dental materials, and 3 borrowed portable dental units traveled to Honduras in an effort to make a small difference in a country with little to no dental care access.  Thus, the USC Dental Humanitarian Club (DHC) was born. The trip to Honduras was the first time that most of these students had ever been to a third world country, or had even witnessed an epidemic of dental decay such as what was seen in the Honduran villages.  The students varied in years of dental school experience from one first year to six third years.

The DHC traveled under the auspices of the international organization, Global Dental Brigades.  Susanna Grimm, the president of the Dental Humanitarian Club, had previously participated with the Global organization last year, and upon returning from that experience, introduced the program to the USC School of Dentistry.

Global Dental Brigades is the new branch of Global Medical Brigades, which is the world’s largest student-led international relief organization.  As a secular, California-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, their mission is to empower students and professionals to provide communities in developing nations with sustainable solutions that improve quality of life while respecting local culture.  Currently more than 1,500 volunteers from 50 of their university clubs travel annually to provide health care, dental care, micro enterprise development, and clean water systems to more than 50,000 beneficiaries in Central America, Ghana, India, and Vietnam.

The USC Dental Humanitarian Club is composed of a group of students who all have a common interest, that being the love of dentistry and the desire to help those who lack access to dental care in foreign countries.  Susanna Grimm, now a second year dental student at USC School of Dentistry, formed the group in August of 2008.  Academic advisors Dr. Eugene Sekiguchi and Neal Nathenson assist the DHC. In December of 2008, the Dental Humanitarian Club engaged in its first assistance program to villages in Honduras. It was an overwhelming success, with many more humanitarian trips to follow in the upcoming years.

The DHC group traveled to Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. After that journey, they endured another two-hour bus ride south to Floral Azul, where they lived for a week. Cold water, a generator for power, and two large shared rooms (one for the boys and one for the girls) were the norm.  Every day they awoke at 7 a.m., ate breakfast provided by the locals, and drove two-to-three hours until arriving at their village destination.

Upon arrival, they went to work setting up the portable dental units provided by Dr. Done and Ayuda who allowed DHC to borrow them for the week.  Without these units, the variety of procedures they would have been able to provide to the villagers would have been extremely limited: only extractions and OHI.  Due to these units, they were able to provide restorations (both amalgam and composite), sealants, scaling, and root planning.

Each day they were supervised by two dentists who live in Honduras and who were provided by Global Dental Brigades.  The dentists came with the DHC group to the villages, guided all the dental students in the procedures, answered questions, and taught.  Both dentists were extremely selfless and amazing to be around.

The lines were long, but the patients’ spirits’ were high; there were no complaints, and the villagers were full of gratitude.  Most days the DHC group worked without lunch breaks to ensure that every person who needed the dentist saw the dentist before it was time to pack up and drive back to Flora Azul.  Many nights they did not return until 9 p.m., knowing that the process would begin again at 6 a.m. the next morning.

They usually worked in small rooms with which they had to make due. Other times, they were outside, barricading their area with suitcases, which contained all of their supplies for the day. Patients sat in a triage line, where students would ask about their chief complaints. After this, the patients would go to anesthesia. After anesthesia, they were sent either to a bright orange, reclining, lawn chair that was used as the dental chair for restorative procedures or to a school desk where extractions were performed.

Children had priority to treatment in the orange dental chair, but most of the time their caries extended too pulpal, and an extraction had to be performed. Other children’s teeth were so badly decayed that there was no hope of possibly saving their teeth. All the children were given fluoride varnish, and all patients were given a toothbrush and toothpaste.

To end the day, and to encourage good, ongoing dental hygiene, Alain Toca, a second-year USC dental student whose primary language is Spanish, would give oral hygiene instructions to all the people in the village, using a typodont and a toothbrush. This was done in the hope that preventative oral hygiene instruction would provide some decrease in the severity of the dental problems seen in those villages.

To give a perspective on the severity of the dental problems observed, in the four days that DHC went on brigades, they found that every village presented with rampant caries, especially class III’s in all the same areas between teeth numbers 8 & 9 (cavities in between the front teeth).  DHC students provided as many dental restorations as possible, but due to time restraints not nearly enough.

Access to dental care in Honduras is rare and hard to come by. The only time a villager will travel the distance to a dentist is when he or she is in need of a full denture, which of course will last them a lifetime!

DHC students traveled to the villages of Santa Maria, Arauli, Jutiapa, and Alauca, and after the four days of brigades, which treated over 250 patients, they were able to put their dental work on hold until next December.


Members of the DHC who went on the trip: Stephanie Pagels, Colin Loewen, Chris Neal, Chris Luevano, Jeremy Jorgenson, Gregg Chan, Alain Toca, Susanna Grimm, Ben Brown, Graciela Vigil, Lucia Chia, Nathan Coughlin, Suzy Poorsatter, Lisa Le and Vanessa Harries (family member).

Special thanks to the following whose donations made our trip possible:
Dr. Sekiguchi and Neal Nathenson- academic advisors
Dr. Don and Aydua- portable dental units
GPSS- $999.99- money to buy supplies that we were unable to get donated
Dr. Keim- new syringes
Ivoclar Vivadent- composite, amalgam, vanishes and a variety of other materials
Kerr- composite
Premier Dental- varnish
Richmond Dental- 2x2s
Jane Wantanbee- gowns, needles and gloves
Septodont- anesthesia, needles
Salvin Dental Supplies- restorable sutures and disposable scalpels
USC Dental Bookstore- perio instruments
USC IMS- various dental instruments
USC Community Health programs- more than 1,000 toothbrushes and toothpaste
Directa Dental- luxator
Patterson- Dental materials
Hu Friedy- dental instruments
CK Dental- dental instruments
Brassler- prophy paste
SS White- burs